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Learn how to request organizational or governmental accountability, and how to use research and other methods to help you get it.


Image of a typewriter carriage with the word "Accountability" typed onto a piece of paper.


  • What is accountability?

  • Why might you seek accountability?

  • When might you seek accountability?

  • Who is accountable, and to whom?

  • How do you request accountability?

Sometimes, when entities - institutions, governments or government agencies, corporations, non-profit organizations, or other groups - aren't, or don't consider themselves, accountable to society or to those they serve, harm can result. It's up to citizens to make sure that the entities that have an effect on their lives are accountable, and to help construct ways to make that happen. In this section, we'll discuss how you can request accountability, and how to use research - the subject of this chapter - and other methods to help you get it.

What is accountability?

An entity (or individual) is accountable when its actions, practices, and policies are open to inspection by those whom they affect, those to whom they have obligations, and those who regulate them, and when there are clear consequences for actions, practices, or policies that are illegal, harmful, unethical, different from what was agreed upon, or incompetent. Accountability assures stakeholders - those who have an interest in or are affected by the entity's operation or actions - that the entity is telling the truth about what it's doing, and that its actions, practices, and policies are legal, ethical, and reasonably effective.

Requesting accountability thus can have two aspects:

  • To ensure that the actions and policies of an entity or individual are actually known, so that they can be judged
  • To urge the passage of laws, policies, or regulations adequate to keep the entity or individual behaving legally, ethically, and competently

There are many kinds of accountability, and a broad range of ways to be accountable. Even a partial list - one that highlights accountability issues that might be subject to advocacy - shows how varied the topic is:

  • Governments, government agencies, and officials should be accountable to the public for their use of money, the quality of their service, and their attention to the public interest
  • Government agencies and regulators should be accountable to the public for regulating those areas and entities for which they are responsible
  • Elected and appointed officials should be accountable to the public for honesty, integrity, competence, ethics, service, and the quality of their decisions
  • Organizations should be accountable to funders and contributors for the use of money
  • Organizations should be accountable to participants/beneficiaries for the quality of service/financial benefit they offer
  • Corporations should be accountable to the public for the safety of their operations, and their attention to the public interest
  • Corporations should be accountable to shareholders and regulators for their financial operations
  • Businesses should be accountable to consumers for the safety and quality of their products
  • Businesses should be accountable to workers and regulators for the treatment of their work force
  • All entities should be accountable to the public for the environmental, economic, political, and social effects of their actions or operations

Individuals should also be accountable to the public they serve for their actions. It's important for citizens to know if they're paying a judge who hardly ever shows up for work, for instance, or if a doctor at the local hospital often sterilizes low-income women without their consent. Individuals in positions of responsibility who break the law, abuse power or the public trust, simply don't do their jobs, or act unethically should have to face the consequences of their actions just as larger entities should.

Why might you request accountability?

While it's important that entities with public responsibilities be accountable, requesting accountability is often time-consuming and difficult. It's unlikely that you would attempt it without a good reason. So what are some good reasons? Actually, there are quite a few.

  • To assure that people are getting what they need. In a community, if public safety, services to elders or to low-income residents, environmental issues, or other important concerns are being ignored, those who are ignoring them - or the community as a whole - should be held accountable for changing the situation.
  • To protect the public from harm, physical or otherwise. The demands of anti-smoking advocates and, ultimately, government, in the U.S. to make cigarette companies accountable to those who bought their products had a lot to do with reducing smoking. Other possibilities:
    • To deter polluters from dumping toxic waste into the water, ground, or air
    • To help eliminate discrimination in housing, employment, and other areas
    • To assure public safety by keeping track of noise levels, hazardous materials or sites, building practices, transportation, etc.
    • To protect people from economic harm. Businesses are audited to assure that their finances are what they say they are. The Securities and Exchange Commission oversees trading in stocks and bonds, and enforces the regulations that govern the actions of stock brokers to keep them from cheating investors, or from convincing them to make decisions that enrich the broker rather than the investor.
    • To prevent wrongdoing and corruption by those in power. When people are appointed or elected to positions of power or authority, it is assumed that they will act according to the highest principles. When police practice brutality or single out minorities for no other reason than the color of their skin, when politicians favor corporations or industries in return for bribes or kickbacks, citizens become angry, and can lose faith in their institutions.
  • To protect the public's right to know. In a free society, knowledge is the basis for political, economic, and social decisions. It's therefore important that the public be aware of what government, corporations, and institutions are actually doing. Some instances where the right to know is or has been important:
    • Watergate. The Washington Post, with its reporting on Watergate, held President Nixon and his aides accountable for their criminal activity, and was ultimately responsible for forcing Nixon out of office. As Nixon himself said, the American people had a right to know whether their President was a crook.
    • Environmental and energy policy. It is important to know who has a hand in the formulation of environmental policy. If policy makers follow the lead of energy producers, the resulting policy is less likely to be in the public interest than in the interest of the energy producers.
    • Product labeling. Warnings on dangerous products, such as the health warnings on cigarette packs or the cautions on a bleach bottle, inform consumers about the products they're using. Food labeling regulations and truth-in-advertising laws help citizens make informed choices about what to buy.

When a product or processing method is controversial, activists often advocate for labeling that would show citizens what they're getting. Currently, for instance, many consumers would like labeling regulations for genetically-modified food products.

  • Campaign and election laws. Laws designed to hold politicians accountable for their fundraising and political practices help to ensure clean elections.
  • To encourage, and prevent retaliation for, whistleblowing. Whistleblowers are people who see corruption, illegal or unethical activity, or incompetence within their own organizations - whether government, corporations, or institutions - and try to put a stop to it by reporting it. Although there are laws to protect them, their reward is often to be demoted, ostracized, or fired. By demanding that companies be held accountable for their treatment of whistleblowers, citizens both help to bring to light the offenses the whistleblowers discover, and to assure that they're not punished for their integrity.
  • To see that citizens are compensated for injury or loss caused by the intentional wrongdoing of some entity. A high-profile example of a corporation being held accountable for injuring citizens is the case portrayed in the movie Erin Brockovich. Brockovich, a para-legal who took up the case and did the relevant research, and her employer, attorney Ed Masry, won $333 million from Pacific Gas and Electric for several hundred residents of the town of Hinkley, California. The Masry firm showed that PG&E had known of the potential harm to residents, yet continued dumping chromium-6 into Hinkley's groundwater. Residents who had suffered health problems and whose property had lost its value because of the contamination shared the PG&E settlement.
  • To prevent the misuse of taxpayer funds that could better be spent elsewhere. We've all heard about the hundred-and-fifty-dollar hammers and five-hundred-dollar toilet seats purchased by the U.S. military from corporations with government contracts. The Inspector General's office was directed to try to control such spending abuses, but only after research by journalists and watchdog groups called attention to the issue.
  • To assure that consumers get what they pay for. State lemon laws, which allow consumers to return cars that simply don't work as they should, hold car dealers accountable for the condition of the vehicles they sell.
  • To keep government, businesses, and institutions from acting unethically. A business may promise jobs and other benefits that don't actually exist in order to obtain the permits it needs to locate in a particular community.
  • To procure simple justice. Sometimes the point of holding an entity accountable - in any of the situations described here, and in others as well - may be the need for justice to be done, for the good guys to win one. When an entity or individual, driven by greed, self-interest, or lust for power, injures or otherwise treats average people as if they didn't matter, we have a need as a society to see balance restored. That's often the real reason that citizens seek accountability, and it may in fact be the best.

When might you seek accountability?

As discussed above, requesting accountability can be a long and difficult process, so it's best to do it when your reasons are most compelling.

  • When some members of the community are in need, and nothing is being done. When homelessness is on the increase, or low-income elders can't afford heating oil, and officials don't react, calls for official accountability are likely to be heeded.
  • When an entity is about to, or continues to, do something harmful. When a paper mill is freely dumping sludge in the river, or sexual harassment at the local high school is being ignored, these situations require accountability, both from the offenders and from those who should be preventing the situations.
  • When economic damage to either the public at large or individuals is being, or about to be, done, such as:
    • A federal bail-out or subsidy for a corporation that repeatedly violates laws or the public trust (or is consistently unable to compete in the marketpklace).
    • Funding for programs that have been proven not to work.
    • Government contracts awarded to cronies of politicians, or to firms from particular legislators' districts.
    • Price fixing by airlines, industries, or other groups.
    • Charities that are scams (5% of what the administrators collect goes to charity, for instance, and the rest lines their pockets) or are not what they seem (group homes where children are abused rather than nurtured).
    • "Businesses" that convince elders over the phone to send money to an address that is simply a mail drop, in return for a service or product that doesn't exist.
  • When a business wants to locate in a community. The community should have the information to decide whether or not a prospective business would make sense for it.

The citizens of Greenfield, Massachusetts, after a long and public examination of the facts, decided against allowing a Wal-Mart to locate there. Local residents felt that its presence would endanger the viability of their downtown commercial district.

  • When an elected official or someone running for office has violated the public trust, has misrepresented his positions or background, or is otherwise unfit for public office. Candidates and elected officials have to be accountable to the public for their past and present actions, and for their expressed ideas. If they are or have been corrupt, that's a crime. If their actions don't match their stated positions, that's certainly not criminal, but the public has a right to know about it. If their actions or speech, past or present, are unacceptable in our society - racist, sexist, antidemocratic - the public has a right, and a need, to know that, too.
  • When some individual or interest has unfairly or illegally influenced official policy or the votes of elected officials. While it is every citizen's right to try to persuade legislators to vote in particular ways, or to advocate for a given policy, it is not legal in the U.S. to try to buy a vote, or to influence a politician or judge with gifts or favors.
  • When a blatant injustice is about to be done. When the federal government was about to allow strip mining on public land in an area immediately adjacent to Kings Canyon National Park in the Sierra Nevada range in California, advocates raised the alarm. The public outcry was such that not only was the plan scrapped, but the area in question was protected from exploitation. Holding the government accountable for what it does with public lands kept a national treasure safe.

Who is accountable, and to whom?

Any individual or entity whose behavior affects the well-being of others should be accountable to them or their representatives. For example, parents who neglect or abuse their children, fail to send them to school or otherwise educate them, or sell them for adoption should be accountable not only to the children themselves, but to society, as represented by the courts and social service agencies.

These are some individuals and groups who should be accountable in a free society. In most cases, it is clear to whom they are accountable, while in others their constituencies may be mulitiple.

  • Elected and appointed government officials. Have they broken any laws? Are their actions consistent with what they say they believe, and with the public interest? Do they hold the public interest above their own and that of their largest contributors?
  • Law enforcement. We rely on the police and the court system to protect us and to ensure that the law applies equally to everyone. Police brutality, or judicial decisions that consistently favor the white and affluent over minorities and the poor, deny us protection and equality under the law. Law enforcement officials must be held accountable to the public. A civilian review board that oversees police conduct, for instance, is a way that some communities gain that accountability.
  • Government agencies. Bureaucracies at all levels are the engines that turn the actual wheels of government. They should be accountable in several areas:
    • Use of taxpayer funds. An agency's financial dealings should be appropriate to its mission, and accurately recorded.
    • Upholding laws. Agencies shouldn't discriminate against groups or individuals, engage in arbitrary decisions, or harass employees or citizens, for instance.
    • Efficiency. The public has a right to expect that government agencies will be reasonably efficient within the bounds of the resources available to them.
  • Government contractors. These can range from huge corporations like Boeing and Lockheed-Martin to community-based organizations that receive a few thousand dollars to provide local services. In both cases, contractors should be accountable to the government funding agency, and, through it, to the public, for their use of the funds (no five-hundred-dollar toilet seats!), and for making a reasonable effort to accomplish the terms of the contract.

The effectiveness of community-based and other nonprofit service providers is often best judged over a long period. It may take time to get a new program started, and individual participants may differ greatly in their capacity to take advantage of a service. For this reason, such organizations should be held accountable in a different way from corporate and similar defense contractors, for instance, who have the experience and expertise to estimate accurately the time and cost of a job, and to complete it within those limits. The point here is that accountability has to be tuned to what it's appropriate for an entity to be accountable for. If a contractor wastes money, it should be held accountable. If wholesale prices rise, or if there are unusual factors in a community that affect an organization's service, the contractor can't be blamed.

  • Nonprofits that seek money directly from the public. If people contribute to the operation of an organization, they have a right to know what their money is spent on. If most of a charity's income goes to administrative salaries rather than to the target population, for instance, the public might choose not to contribute. Most organizations are required to file financial statements with the state, which can be consulted by donors, the media, or anyone else with an interest.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., the American Red Cross was criticized by donors because it did not use all the donations it received to benefit the families of the terrorists' victims, though its fundraising publicity seemed to indicate it would. The agency ultimately was forced to explain and change its policies for distributing funds, and its Director resigned.

  • Corporations. U.S. corporations are chartered by the state or federal government (or both), and have both legal and ethical obligations to the public and to their shareholders. Their annual reports, which include financial statements, are available to the public. Two web sites with good information on corporate research and links to sources for these documents are the "Researching corporations" page of the Corporate Accountability Project, and the Corporate Research Guide from Corporate Watch. In addition, some questions you might want to ask about a corporation are:
    • Is it obeying the law in all respects?
    • Is it telling the truth about its activities, and about the safety, results, and implications of what it's doing or producing?
    • Does it treat employees fairly and decently?
    • Does it operate ethically in all parts of the world? (Does it refuse to use child labor, for instance?)
    • Is it paying its fair share of taxes? Are its accounting practices proper and ethical?
    • How does it choose and appoint directors, executives, and others?
  • Individuals trying to influence policy. Lobbyists and major political contributors have legal obligations to report contributions, gifts, etc. and are not allowed to receive anything in return. If there seems to be a pattern of payment for political considerations, that's illegal, and both the contributor and the politician involved should be prosecuted.
  • Individuals within an organization whose jobs give them power. People with authority have ethical obligations to those whom they supervise or employ. They should be accountable to the organization for following organizational policy (assuming that policy is, in itself, ethical), for treating people fairly and with respect, and for their financial management. In the last case, there are legal issues as well: if people mismanage or embezzle money, or use public funding in inappropriate ways, they are accountable to both the organization and the funder, and, often, to the law as well.

How do you seek accountability?

Do the necessary research

Regardless of whether there are current laws or regulations governing the actions you're concerned about, or whether you don't yet know if there are actions to be concerned about, you'll need information before you can do anything else. In order to provoke an official investigation, support a lawsuit, convince an agency to change its practices, or persuade legislators or other officials to change or institute laws and policies, you'll need both evidence and a clear understanding of the issue involved.

In some cases, that will mean doing "academic" research: reading books and documents in libraries and newspaper archives, consulting with experts, and perhaps even conducting studies. In other situations, it might mean interviewing people, conducting local surveys, taking photographs, or doing some nitty-gritty investigation. There are three general rules to remember about any advocacy research:

  • Do your homework carefully and thoroughly. There's no substitute for knowing what you're talking about. Whether it's the chemical properties of a polluting substance, the five-year experience of the community with a particular intervention, the provisions of an existing law, or the actual number of homeless families with kids in the school district, if you know your subject cold, you won't be caught stammering trying to answer an opponent's argument or a policy maker's question.
  • Seek help when you need it. Whether you need an expert - a professor from the local university, a community historian, a carpenter - or some reinforcements, because there's too much material for one person to go through, don't hesitate to ask for help.
  • Keep at it. Persistence is probably the best research tool available, and it will often get you results that other methods won't.

Some specific resources for research to support requesting accountability

  • State and federal laws
    • Law libraries. Law libraries are generally located in or near county courthouses and in law schools. While many public libraries may have complete copies of the state law code, law librarians are generally more knowledgeable, and can more easily and quickly help you find what you're looking for.
    • The Internet. There are several web sites with listings of or links to U.S. state and federal statutes. Most state web sites (most reachable by www., followed by state.[two-letter state abbreviation].us/) will give access to the laws of that state. In addition, there are sites with links to all state law codes. One of the best is the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School. It contains all state statutes, searchable by topic, as well as Federal Laws. Others site for federal laws are the U.S. General Services Administration and the Reference Center and General Government, which is searchable in a number of different ways. Pending and recently passed federal legislation can be researched at Library of Congress, and Federal laws of Canada can be found at Department of Justice Canada
  • Information about the past and current activities of government and corporations
    • There are a number of web sites of watchdog organizations that try to hold governments or corporations accountable for what they do. Some of the most useful of these are Government Accountability Project, which tries to protect whistleblowers and make sure they're heard; the Congressional Accountability Project, concerned with Congressional ethics reform; the Corporate Accountability Project, keeping watch on multinational corporations, with links to Corporate Watch, a massive database on corporate activity worldwide, and its sister organization, CorpWatch USA.
    • In addition to these and similar web sites, there are also newspaper archives, accessible through newspaper offices and - often - on the web. The New York Times on the web, for instance, offers archived articles (at a small cost) going back five or more years. Newsweek also offers a fee-based archive. Many public and academic libraries subscribe to newspaper and magazine archive services, and you may be able to take advantage of that as a library card holder. State university libraries, particularly, many of which offer library membership to any state resident, have a broad range of research services. Libraries and librarians in general are often tremendously helpful, and can turn up sources you might not have considered.

So... you've done your research. You have evidence that someone isn't doing her job, or that a company is breaking the law, or that a government agency is ignoring an issue that screams for resolution. Now what?

What you do now depends on what kind of accountability you're seeking. If what you're looking for is open access to information, you may have already gained it in the course of your research, or you may have to try to get it through negotiation, public pressure, regulation, or legal action. If you're requesting changes in policy or laws that will create a freer flow of information, establish penalties for lawbreaking, and ensure that agencies and organizations are doing their jobs, you'll probably have to engage in advocacy with legislators or other policy makers.

Decide what kind of accountability you want

There's a broad range here, from requiring something as simple as a list of the chemicals that an organization uses (already a requirement in some states) to passing strict laws that impose heavy financial and criminal penalties for certain acts.

Some of the possibilities:

  • More (voluntary) openness on the part of the entity. In this case, all you're asking for is that someone be available to respond to citizens' questions and concerns. The entity might appoint an ombudsman or community relations officer to perform this function, or it might try to satisfy the community need informally, referring people to whoever is closest to the area the question or concern covers.
  • A change in, or enforcement of, internal policy. Sometimes, what you want an organization or other entity to be accountable for has nothing to do with the law. Suppose you want to change the way the state welfare agency treats those it serves. To change such a situation and make the people in question accountable for their actions, you need a change in the organization's internal policy, or, if that policy already has reasonable standards for these situations, enforcement of that policy.
  • Regular reporting. An entity might be asked to submit regular reports of its financial dealings, its use of specific materials, its contacts with citizens, etc. The type of report would obviously depend on the issues involved.

Part of any reporting requirement should be how the information would be made available, and to whom. Will it be public, or will it be seen only by certain officials? Will it be available on line and/or in the media, or will people have to go somewhere or do something special in order to find it? Who will oversee its accuracy?

  • Regulation or government oversight. An example of this might be regular state monitoring of the effluent (outflow) from a manufacturing plant into the ocean or ground water.
  • Community oversight. Where alleged police brutality is an issue, for example, many communities have established review boards, made up both of police officials and of citizens from affected neighborhoods, that review and hold police accountable for their actions and decisions, and make suggestions about needed training and community or cultural sensitivity.

In this type of situation, it makes sense to involve the entity itself in planning. How can you set up oversight that allows the entity to do its job, while still providing the level of accountability the community feels it needs? In the best-case scenario, this process can build bridges between the entity and the community, and improve long-term relations.

  • Penalties or added teeth for existing laws and regulations. No amount of monitoring will make any difference unless there are reasons for an entity to obey the laws or regulations the monitoring is meant to enforce. Many environmental laws, for instance, involve penalties so small that large corporations can actually save money by breaking the law and paying fines.
  • New laws, regulations, or policies. You may want a new law or policy to close a gap. (The Clean Water Act of 1972, for instance, set water quality standards where there had been none, and imposed penalties for the dumping of hazardous waste and sewage.) Or one may be needed to deal with an issue that is itself new. (We are still discussing whether and how laws might hold people accountable for the contents of their web sites, for example.) Or a new policy may be needed to deal with a longstanding community issue, such as care for frail elders or adult literacy.

Appeal directly to the entity

If you're seeking information, you may be able to convince someone in authority that the entity would be better off giving it to you now than waiting for you to go to regulatory agencies and the media.

If what you're seeking is a change in internal policy, a direct appeal may, in some cases, be the only way to achieve it. A government agency of some sort may be swayed by public pressure, but a private entity - a business, for instance - is unlikely to change its internal functioning because someone outside it disapproves.

If you're trying to bring about accountability that would lead to a change in social policy

Go to a regulatory agency for help

If you have hard evidence, or strong circumstantial evidence, of wrongdoing, a regulatory agency may be willing to use its power to make the entity disclose more. This step assumes, of course, that the regulatory agency is not part of the problem, and that there is an agency that oversees this particular entity.

Go public

If you have facts that indisputably show that an entity is engaged in questionable practices, making those public may be enough to persuade the entity to be open about what it's doing before it gets hit with a lawsuit or penalties. How well this tactic will work depends to a large extent on how much the entity values its self-image, and to whom it is responsible.

In order to accomplish this, you'll need the cooperation of the media. If you already have good relationships with individuals or groups within the media, gaining that cooperation should be a simple matter of a phone call. If you haven't yet established those relationships, you may have a lot of work ahead of you.

Institute direct action

If media attention isn't enough, calling attention to the issue with some sort of public demonstration (picketing, a rally, etc.) may be called for. Another possibility, if you're dealing with a commercial enterprise, is a boycott of its products, which can apply both public and economic pressure.

Engage in legislative advocacy to get new laws passed

This can be a long and difficult process, but it may also be the one that gets the best results in the long run.

To do it right, there are some steps to follow:

  • Define clearly what you want done, so that legislators, potential allies, and the public can easily understand it.
  • Establish relationships with legislators and their aides, so that they know who you are, understand your issues, and will take your phone calls and work with you.
  • Find a legislative champion to sponsor your bill, someone who believes in it as strongly as you do.
  • Marshal your allies for support, including people with whom you may disagree on other issues.
  • Do your homework. You should know everything you need to know about accountability in this situation: why it's necessary, what its results should be, what will happen without it, and any science or psychology or economics or anything else that will help explain what you're working toward.
  • Advocate with legislators, policy makers, and the public.
  • Be willing to take small steps. You may not reach your goal all at once: accept anything that works toward it as a positive move.
  • Keep at it forever. Even after your bill is passed, or the regulations are changed, you have to make sure that someone doesn't convince legislators to repeal or change it again.


This tactic is costly, takes a long time, and is often weighted in favor of large entities - big corporations, government agencies - that can afford to retain high-powered lawyers at huge fees for long periods. Unless your attorneys are dedicated, you can be forced out of the suit because you've run out of money to pay them. The time required for the suit to come to court may be so long (several years, or even decades, may pass) that the issue can no longer be resolved. For all of these reasons, a lawsuit should be the last option on your list.

One or more of the above strategies should make it possible for you to request and gain accountability for government, corporate, organizational, and institutional entities, as well as for individuals. Holding such entities and individuals accountable is an important step in gaining citizen participation in and ownership of health and community development.

In Summary

Holding government, business, institutions, organizations, and individuals accountable is an important part of fostering and supporting policies that work toward the betterment of a community. Making sure that all these entities' activities are open to public scrutiny, and that laws, regulations, and policies, as well as public opinion, are strong enough to assure that they always consider the public interest, is a giant step toward maintaining effective advocacy.

Seeking accountability helps to make sure necessary public services are provided; to protect the public from harm; to defend its right to know; to encourage whistleblowers and shield them from retaliation; to provide compensation for loss or injury caused by an entity's negligent or illegal activity; to prevent the misuse of public money; to assure consumers get what they pay for; to guard against unethical behavior; and to administer simple justice.

There are times that are particularly appropriate to request accountability. Most are when holding an entity or individual accountable will prevent or halt an activity that is likely to cause physical, psychological, political, or economic harm to citizens. Those who should be held accountable in these areas include politicians and other government officials and employees; law enforcement and the court system; government and its agencies and branches; government contractors; organizations that solicit money directly from the community; corporations and other businesses; individuals and groups that try to influence policy; and individuals who hold power within entities.

Requesting accountability starts with research. Some general guidelines for effective research include asking for help from good sources; doing your homework and learning the basics; and being persistent. Once you've applied these general rules, and used libraries, the Internet, interviews and other contact with individuals, and your own ingenuity to gain access to information, you can begin to go about trying to obtain accountability for whatever entity you're concerned with by taking one or more of the following steps:

  • Decide what kind of accountability you need
  • Appeal directly to the entity
  • Appeal to the appropriate regulatory agency
  • Go public
  • Institute direct action
  • Advocate for official changes in laws or policy
  • Initiate a lawsuit

Ultimately, one, or some combination of, these steps should bring success. Once you've obtained the level of accountability necessary, you're on your way to positive community change.

Phil Rabinowitz

Online Resources

Addressing Accountability in NGO Advocacy - This article provides information on each of the major dimensions of accountability and general practice tips for each of the dimensions.

Common Cause is one of the major consumer/government/corporate watchdog organizations.

Congressional Accountability Project provides information, articles, and links on Congressional ethics reform, public accountability of Congress.

Corporate Watch is a United Kingdom-based watchdog organization concerned with the accountability of multinational corporations. The site includes a huge trove of links and data on corporations and strategies for gaining corporate accountability.

Corporate Watch USA is the US-based arm of Corporate Watch, and features a research guide with a database, articles, links, and more.

Library of Congress provides pending and recently passed legislation, debates, etc. An important site for activists and advocates of any persuasion.

Postcards: Hold Congress Accountable a tool for printing and sending postcards to hold lawmakers accountable.

Public Citizen is a watchdog organization originally founded by Ralph Nader over 30 years ago.

Social Accountability International is a mainstream organization with a board composed of directors from the United Nations, governments, and corporations, dedicated to developing and enforcing socially responsible workplace standards.

US Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) provides links to all the state PIRGs and general information.


Print Resources

Avner, M., & Smucker, B. (2002). The lobbying and advocacy handbook for nonprofit organizations: Shaping public policy at the state and local level. Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. This book offers a clear step-by-step guide to implementing a successful advocacy program at both the state and local levels.

Sen, R. (2003). Stir it up: Lessons in community organizing and advocacy. Jossey-Bass; 1st Edition. In this book, Sen goes step-by-step through the process of building and mobilizing a community and implementing key strategies to affect social change.  Using case studies to illustrate advocacy practices, Sen provides tools to help groups tailor his model for their own organizational needs.